Hilary Topper, president of the 21-year-old Melville firm HJMT Public Relations, made a decision to cultivate the social media community early on. In 2009, she published "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Social Media, but were afraid to ask." Next, she launched the Social Media Association of Long Island, a group that discusses new social media opportunities and has a guest speaker each month. She said her blog has 40,000 unique visitors a month, and her online radio show receives 4,000 listeners per episode.
Topper, 50, spent her earlier career at Ogilvy & Mather and Ruder Finn, and worked in the nonprofit sector. After earning her master's in public administration from Baruch College and giving birth to a colicky girl, she decided to start her business.
"My baby was 2 months old or 3 months old and so I'd actually be feeding her in my lap while I was making media calls," she said.
What tips would you offer to someone who's clueless about social media?
You don't have to be everywhere. You just should be where your community is and then once you're there, really engage your people. Don't just post stuff and not respond -- that to me is the biggest faux pas because this is social.
What's new in social media?
Did your book help your business?
Absolutely. From that, we got so much exposure. It was one of the first books that came out on social media.
What trends are you seeing in public relations?
As PR professionals, we are heavily targeting bloggers for their opinions about products and services that we may represent. Bloggers are important to be part of our "media list." We need to develop relationships with bloggers just as we would reporters and producers.
How do you start building a social media following?
Start by having a social networking community and try and grow that community, but grow it in a way where you're not sales-y and you engage your followers. If you can get your followers to really have a relationship with you online, then bring them back to your blog and offer them stuff that they want to read about.
You take your employees rock climbing?
Yes, I do . . . I do a lot of teambuilding and I wanted to take them to new heights. I also rented a house for a weekend and took my entire staff to the vineyards. I feel very strongly about taking care of my staff and I want them to feel ownership of the fun.
What's your advice to new moms who want to start a business?
Just to go for it. I also think it's important to try to find a mentor, somebody who's been through it, who feels comfortable enough to share their experiences -- because it's really difficult to run your own business.
In 2009 social media was just developing. How did you do research for your book?
I had each of my staff totally explore these social networking sites and get the demographics and just find out: who's talking, what they're talking about, if there was any correlation to the business community, and how businesses use different social sites and help build the awareness to be a brand. At the end of this little project, I had a stack of papers on my desk and I said, "You know what? I'm going to write a book."
Name: Hilary Topper, president and chief executive, HJMT Public Relations Inc. in Melville
WHAT IT DOES: Public relations and social media agency
EMPLOYEES: 4 full time; 3 part time
REVENUE: Just under $2 million